DURHAM (AP) — After playing 32 innings in roughly 31 hours, North Carolina’s players may not have been completely rested.
Taylore Cherry sure was.
The first-time starter worked five solid innings to help the Tar Heels beat Virginia Tech 4-1 on Sunday in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Cherry (1-0), a 6-foot-8, 270-pound freshman, pitched just 3 1-3 innings all season and never worked more than one inning in any of his five previous appearances.
But he gave up just five hits to the tournament’s hottest-hitting team while working into the sixth inning — and coach Mike Fox called those accomplishments “the story” of the game.
“He’s worked hard, and he’s prepared,” Fox said. “You never know when your moment is going to be.”
Skye Bolt was credited with two RBIs for top-seeded North Carolina, which earned its sixth ACC tournament title but just their second since 1990.
North Carolina claimed its 19th straight victory against the mistake-prone Hokies (38-20) and denied them their first conference title since they won the Atlantic-10 tournament in 2000. Virginia Tech made four errors and they all led directly to UNC runs.
“I thought it was unfortunate that we didn’t play a clean baseball game,” Virginia Tech coach Pete Hughes said. “We always want to play good defense and throw a lot of strikes, and we just didn’t play good defense today.”
The Tar Heels finished up with an exhausting 4-0 record this week in Durham, and the middle two wins lasted a combined 32 innings.
They needed 14 innings to beat Clemson on Friday night and 18 to defeat rival N.C. State in a game that ended just before 2 a.m. Sunday — roughly 11 hours before the title game.
Fox, who said he canceled the pregame meal and instead encouraged his players to sleep in, insisted he didn’t notice many tired Tar Heels.
“Youth — it’s a great thing,” he quipped.
But ACC player of the year Colin Moran had a slightly different perspective.
“When you’re playing for a championship, it’s not very hard to get up for it,” he said. “But I’d be lying if I said we weren’t a little bit tired.”
The Hokies, who entered hitting .310 as a team while going 3-0 in their four-team pool, loaded the bases in both the fifth and sixth innings but got only one run out of it: Tyler Horan scored on Chad Morgan’s double-play groundout off freshman reliever Trevor Kelley in the sixth to pull Virginia Tech to 2-1.
“It’s a shame, but it’s baseball,” Tech shortstop Chad Pinder said. “You’re not going to have the timely hits every single game. … (If) you’re not getting those clutch hits against a team like North Carolina, it’s tough to get a win.”
Kelley retired the final 11 batters he faced, starting with that double-play ball, to earn his second save.
All four of North Carolina’s runs came as a result of Virginia Tech’s miscues.
Landon Lassiter scored in the first when second baseman Alex Perez couldn’t handle Bolt’s sharp grounder off Eddie Campbell (2-4).
Two innings later, the Tar Heels had runners at the corners with one out when Bolt grounded to third, but Brendon Hayden’s throw to second pulled Perez off the bag and allowed Lassiter to score and make it 2-0.
The Tar Heels added two insurance runs in the eighth. Lassiter — who reached on a throwing error by Hayden — came around to score when relief pitcher Joe Mantiply fielded Bolt’s sacrifice bunt and threw it past Hayden and down the third-base line to push it to 3-1.
Brian Holberton’s sacrifice fly three batters later brought home Bolt to make it a three-run game.